Was Shakespeare rooted in a medieval picture of the world and was not interested in astronomy? Analysis of the poet’s works, among other things by the Poles, he denies this. The images of planets and stars in his poetry fit with the cosmological debates of the era and with the beliefs of the leading astronomers of London.
In the time of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), a discussion developed about the nature of the celestial bodies, which, according to Aristotelian physics and medieval natural philosophy, were supposed to raise the planets and stars. In this region formed by the celestial ether, stretched over the orbit of the Moon, no sudden changes can occur – as the Professor states. Jaroslaw Lodarczyk of the Institute for the History of Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
Meanwhile, in 1572, a new star (in today’s terminology: a supernova) erupted in the sky, which—changing its brightness—appeared to be getting closer and farther from Earth. But in 1577 and 1585 amazing comets appeared. Careful astronomical observations indicated that it was farther from Earth than the Moon. And if so, they had to move between the planets. All of this would not be possible if solid planetary spheres existed. Astronomers began to doubt their reality. “Oil was added to the fire by the heliocentric theory of Nicholas Copernicus, published in 1543. Although it gained supporters willing to accept its bodily nature very slowly, it also destroyed the ancient and medieval architecture of the universe” – the historian noted.
London in Shakespeare’s day was a place where Copernicus’ theory was discussed particularly lively, and where the necessity of referring to celestial spheres as a mechanism for raising planets and stars was undermined, thanks to observations of supernovae and comets there. . Among the proponents of these views were the most prominent English scholars of the time, such as John Dee, Thomas Diggs, Thomas Harriot and William Gilbert, but also authors of ephemeris – publications of great and widespread popularity – such as Edward Grisham and Thomas Bretnor.
Until now, scholars of literature, as well as authors of critical editions of William Shakespeare’s plays, published in the famous Arden, Cambridge and Oxford series, have constantly placed themselves in a geocentric world governed by Aristotle’s physics. They claimed not to be interested in astronomy.
In a multidisciplinary work appeared in the prestigious magazine “Shakespeare”, incl. Polish researchers have established that some literary traces, repeated in the poet’s drama, testify to his vivid reaction to the debates about the new structure of the universe that took place in his time.
“In our work, we have observed that the almost recurring obsessiveness in Shakespearean texts (The Rape of Lucrezia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale), images of planets and stars falling and emanating. From their spheres it is a path quite consistent with the cosmological discussions of the age and with The beliefs of the leading astronomers of London ”- explains Prof. Włodarczyk.
To prove our hypothesis, they used not only fragments of Shakespeare’s plays and English astronomical, printed and handwritten sources, but also modern digital humanities tools that allow them to trace the emergence and occurrence of selected words in the huge electronic collection of Old English EEBO- TPC literature (almost 125 thousand text).
On the basis of recent research, scientists were able to determine that Shakespeare may have created two new expressions, depicting the separation between a celestial body and a sphere (disorb, unsphere). These words were later used in the English language, and he used them in his poetry, incl. John Milton.
“These findings require a review of traditional views according to which Shakespeare has been treated as a product of traditional education, rooted in a medieval picture of the world, focused on human affairs, and indifferent to new visions of the universe. These views continue to be reflected in the critical apparatus of ecclesiastical editions of Shakespeare’s plays.” In the famous series Arden, Cambridge or Oxford. In other words, our Polish-American team of three challenged the world traditions of Shakespeare ”- sums up the researcher.
An article titled “Incoherent, Separate, and Decent: The Astronomical Fiction of Shakespeare” has been published in Shakespeare’s Journal, sponsored by the British Shakespeare Society. Its authors are: Anna Cetera-Włodarczyk from the University of Warsaw, Jonathan Hope from Arizona State University and Jarosław Włodarczyk from the Institute for the History of Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
In open access format, you can read it This page. (PAP)
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